The story of accused Russian agent Maria Butina is becoming increasingly bizarre as more details of her life and dealings in the U.S. are revealed.
In a story published Sunday, The New York Times described a series of failed deals by Butina and her partner, Republican political operative Paul Erickson, to secure massive quantities of jet fuel from Russia. Clients in those deals—which never came to fruition—were recommended by former National Rifle Association president David Keene and his wife, Donna.
As described in the Times report, which was based on hundreds of pages of emails, Butina and Erickson’s efforts to broker nonsensical quantities of Russian jet fuel—“nearly double what all of Russia’s refineries export in a month,” according to the report—to the Keenes’ contacts approached the absurd.
According to the Times:
Russia has used oil and gas deals to build influence, deploying companies like Gazprom to cut sweetheart deals for pro-Moscow politicians in other countries. But Ms. Butina did not connect with the likes of Gazprom or other major Russian oil companies. Instead, she relied on a Russian coffee bean trader and a public relations consultant with loose ties to the political party of President Vladimir V. Putin.
All of them seemed out of their depth, each projecting confidence and deep knowledge of the jet fuel business while seeming not to grasp the basics. None appeared to have any idea how to pull off the deal they were negotiating — or the money with which to do it.
The first client sought 5 million barrels of jet fuel, a deal that was squashed when Butina—at Erickson’s urging—sought an upfront payment of $25,000, the report said. A second deal fell through when an Israeli-American associate of an interested jet fuel broker from Virginia realized within five minutes of meeting Erickson and Butina that they had no idea what they were doing.
In another meeting set up by Donna Keene, the potential clients thought they were being scammed. They reported Erickson, who faces fraud allegations in three states, and Butina to the FBI.
Butina’s lawyer told the Times that all of this is “just further evidence that she wasn’t here on any mission on behalf of the Russian Federation.”
Butina, 29, currently sits in an Alexandria, VA jail after being indicted on charges of conspiracy to act and failing to register as an agent of a foreign government.